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《Lessons for Elementary School (18)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Responsibility and Life

It is the second last day of school. Mr. Shaw tries to have the children share their choice of famous quotes on responsibility and life, to open up their minds, and to discuss with their parents on what they have learned in school over the summer holidays. Each student brings in two famous quotes of her/his choice, and shares with the class the meanings felt. At the end of class, Mr. Shaw has all the quotes recorded in his computer to print out for the students.
Nancy is excited to tell Grandpa what interests her most about the lesson, the minute she gets home.

“Elaine began first as usual. She brought in a quote by the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: ‘Thanks to television, our children are now seeing history made before it is censored by the elders.’ The second quote is by the biologist Rachel Carson, who said: ‘This is the era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits.’ Elaine told us she got the quotes with her father’s help. They warn us of the condition of our modern life. First, television has forced us to see all the tragedies of war and killings so that we have become indifferent to suffering and evil deeds. On the other hand, our elite scientists are self-serving rather than enhancing the common good. Today, each of us has to use our intelligence and compassion to manage a meaningful life, against many negative forces.”

“You must be the second one to report.” Grandpa knows Nancy likes to be second.

“Yes, Grandpa. I gave the class one quote I learned from you. Can you guess which one?”

“It would be by Confucius.”

“You are wrong, Grandpa, if you think it is ‘Never impose on other people what you would not choose for yourself’. I know Timothy would use that quote because he often uses it when a big boy bullies him. The quote I share with my friends is by Mencius: ‘Taking up a responsibility leads to change. The courage of caring for oneself is the root of caring for others’."

“Good for you! What is your second quote?”

“I had it from Dad. It is by Stephen Hawking: ‘Science is not only a discipline of reason, but also one of romance and passion’. I told my class that these quotes tell us to take up responsibility not as hard work, but as helpful and joyful activities.”

“That is nice. What next?”

“Matthew gave two quotes by Einstein: ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’ and ‘Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school’. He told us that he was most impressed with Einstein’s sense of independence. Then, Liza shares with us two quotes given to her by her grandma. They are by the great American novelist Pearl Buck. She said: ‘The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it’ and ‘Our society must make it right and possible for old folks not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of civilization is the way a society cares for her helpless members’. She told us that Pearl Buck became a political figure after she returned to America from her long stay in China. She was successful fighting for the rights of the minority people.”

“I know her too.” Grandpa jumps in quickly. “I’ve read her famous novel The Good Earth, in which she described the hard-working Chinese peasants and their peaceful way of life. She got a Nobel Literature Prize for it in 1938.”

“Good for you, Grandpa. Mr. Shaw also said he admires her a lot. Her old residence at the Nanjing University is still preserved as a museum. President Bush made a special point to visit it when he visited China in 1998. Mr. Shaw gave us two of his favorite quotes from her: ‘Nothing and no one can destroy the Chinese people, for they are relentless survivors’ and ‘We send missionaries to China so the Chinese can get to heaven, but we won’t let them into our country’.”

“Yes, I know the second quote too. Americans are famous for using their double standards to gain money and power.”

“Let me continue, Grandpa.” Nancy is anxious to show her many quotes. She says: “David showed us his quotes and thoughts. One quote is by Charles Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsible to change’. The second quote is by Jules-Henri Poincare who said: ‘Science is built up of facts as a house is built of stones. But, an accumulation of facts is no more science than a house’. David told us that he learned from these quotes that responsibility is not only a duty lay out for you, it is your way of seeing yourself in a community striving for a caring and satisfactory life.”

“It seems from all these that responsibility is a natural part of us. I am so glad that you kids have such a good understanding of it at your young age.”

“Actually, there is more. We feel close together as we share these quotes. I will do three more today and we will have some ice cream for the hard work. Is it OK, Grandpa?”

“You really deserve it, Nancy. Let’s see what you have.”

“Carol brought in two quotes about feelings. The first is by Einstein: ‘Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated’. Her second quote is from Sigmund Freud, the famous psychiatrist. He said: ‘Most people do not want freedom, because it involves responsibility, and most people are frightened by responsibility’. Carol said she found these quotes very inspiring because they answer to her doubts about her being a free loner. Then, Joseph presented two quotes by Confucius: ‘A wise man decides firmly what he will not do, and he will be free to pursue what he ought to do with great vigor’. His second quote said: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will not have to work a single day in your life’. Joseph told us that he found these to be the best explanation of responsibility and life.”

“Here is the last presentation today. Norman presented these quotes from two top scientists. Einstein said; ‘The striving for truth frees us from the bonds of the self, and makes us the best and the greatest’. The second is by Madam Curie when she said: ‘Nothing in life is to be feared; it is to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less’. Norman told us that scientists are not people confined in objectivity, as described in stereotype stories. They are people with intense passion for life and mystery. They are real artists.”

With that done, Nancy and Grandpa hurried to enjoy their ice creams. 

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